I wish I could make more concrete policy recommendations, but in this case all I can say is “this looks troubling.” Here’s the letter I sent to my representatives today:

Dear Senator Feinstein,

In 2006, we learned that the NSA had secretly tapped all internet traffic flowing through AT&T’s San Francisco peering point. Now, the Guardian’s leaks suggest that the NSA has accrued phone and email records–some metadata, some full content–for millions of US citizens, and stored them for targeted analysis. The criteria for retention and analysis remain poorly understood.

For months now, my friend Justin has been trying to get me up to the cities, and, more importantly, to meet the people on the Equality Ride. While I can’t hope to express what the ride is without having been on it, the best story I can offer is that of 50-odd young adults traveling around the country on two buses, going to college campuses which make life hard for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender people. Some universities have policies so severe, students may be suspended or expelled for supporting their gay friends or family. The ride aims to change this by, well, talking. Talking to students about their experiences with sexual and gender identity, explaining how their faith interacts with those, and challenging arguments that these identities are fundamentally immoral.

The other half of the ride is more a public relations effort: when schools refuse the ride access to campus, riders stand vigil at the sidewalk, walk around the campus borders, or deliberately trespass. At one stop, riders carried pictures of their family. At another, they left lilies to symbolize the suicides of LGBT students, and read those stories aloud. “All we want to do is talk,” the campaign seems to plead, “and yet we are handcuffed and arrested because the school doesn’t want their students to have this dialogue.”

While I agree wholeheartedly with the Equality Ride’s efforts to talk with students, this method of civil disobedience rests uneasy with me. I think it’s disrespectful to invade a private property, especially as a part of an organized group. These colleges have the right to bar people from their property, and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the right to determine a code of conduct for students. Surely a college can enforce its own attendance criteria: for example, as a man, I wouldn’t complain about being denied entrance to a woman’s university.

I haven’t taken many classes lately with research papers. It’s all been problem sets, notes, finals… not much in the way of going out and finding stuff on my own. Because of this, it was not until yesterday that I experienced the awe-inspiring mass of documentation that is the U.S. Government Archive, on the first floor of the libe: rows and rows of compressed movable shelving, stuffed full of treatises on every imaginable topic.

They’re filed according to some byzantine scheme, with at least six separate fields for each identifier. The notation uses capitalization, slashes, dashes, dots, colons, and even superscripts to index each document, and after perusing shelves of this stuff, I can’t ascertain what those numbers mean. On this shelf, a decrepit tome “War” rests sedately on the shelf; thicker than it is tall, it describes the military capacities of the United States decades ago. Here’s a report on global warming written in 2005: a thin paper booklet held together by staples, and right next to it: five volumes, over three thousand pages, detailing the threat of Communism to the American public.

There’s an org chart of American Communism, with hierarchical boxes and arrows laying out the many attack vectors of the insidious Left Agenda. There are pages and pages of testimony before special investigative committee, in which politicians, actors, doctors, and professors testify that they have not been involved with the Communist cause. There are pages and pages about the Multinational Negro Commission, and the Communist Youth Outreach programs. There’s discussion of legal proceedings: laws to outlaw the teaching of Communism or related principles in public schools.

In 1946, George Orwell wrote an essay on the pitfalls of English prose, describing what he considered to be the common mistakes made in modern writing. Politics and the English Language identified dead metaphors, over-used phrases, and vague diction as habits to be eliminated from writing, for they tire the reader, confuse the meaning, and destroy the specifics of one’s intended message. Whether purposeful or accidental, such errors have not yet been eliminated from the English language: 60 years later we still make the same mistakes, albeit in slightly different forms. While most writers keep their prose admirably clear of such obstructions, passive, vacuous, and needlessly complex sentences cloak the modern world of bureaucracy and politics in a haze of pretentiously irrelevant verbosity.

Take the first of Orwell’s charges: the dying metaphor. Some of his examples of have now faded from use, like “ring the charges on” or “take up the cudgels for.” After all, few people fight with cudgels nowadays. However, some of these phrases remain in circulation. “Toe the line” has become embedded in our vocabulary to the extent that it fails to arouse any trace of visual imagery. One has only to examine any political statement to encounter these tired phrases being trotted out once again for display. We speak of “cutting off ties” with other nations, or refer to America as “a shining beacon” of democracy, and no one thinks anew. The problem of dying metaphors hasn’t gone away, but merely shifted to a new collection of unimaginative analogies.

Similarly, the reliance on verbal false limbs and the passive voice has not diminished with time: these appear with frequency in political, bureaucratic, and scientific writing. Compounding simple verbs and nouns produces the illusion of objectivity and sophistication while obscuring the real facts, as this excerpt from the FBI’s about web page demonstrates:

Copyright © 2017 Kyle Kingsbury.
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